January 17, 2022
Dear Members of the Connecticut College Community,
Today, the College is closed in observance of the national holiday commemorating the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is a holiday that emerged from our nation’s belated understanding of all that Dr. King stood for: a vision of a just world free of poverty and oppression and a commitment to non-violence, even in the face of brutality. At the same time, the day reminds us that the work Dr. King began more than a half-century ago remains woefully unfinished. This point was recently emphasized by the King family when they asked that any celebration this year be linked to advocacy for legislation that will protect our most sacred and democratic right: the right to vote.
Dr. King’s family will be leading a march for voting rights today in our nation’s capital. That act encourages us to think about the role we, too, should be playing. Almost 40 percent of states this past year passed more restrictive voting laws, largely in reaction to baseless claims that the results of the 2020 presidential election were fraudulent, claims that ultimately led to the January 2021 attack on the Capitol. On the one-year anniversary of that violence, we can hardly afford to take this precious right for granted.
Our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees have shown us the way. Debo Adegbile ’91, Chair of the Board of Trustees, twice defended the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—one of Dr. King’s signature legislative victories—before the United States Supreme Court. Chakena Sims Perry ’16 was honored by the Posse Foundation in 2020 for her work as president of Chicago Votes, a non-profit focused on creating a more inclusive democracy. Prof. Mara Suttman-Lea received a prestigious award from the Social Science Research Council to support her research on voter education and participation. And Connecticut College, joining 160 other colleges and universities in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, saw voter participation in the 2020 presidential election rise to nearly 80%. We are grateful to the student, staff, and faculty leaders of Camels Vote—Conn’s nonpartisan initiative supported by the Holleran Center—who made this outcome possible. And we stand today with the King family in their efforts to strengthen the foundational principles of our democracy.
This week, we will have another opportunity to reflect on those principles during Elevate, the second annual conference on social justice at Connecticut College. This year’s conference, which takes place virtually on Jan. 19 and 20, takes up the complex issue of housing justice, a key tenet of Dr. King’s work, which posthumously inspired the Fair Housing Act. Keynote speakers include Rosemary Ndubuizu on housing justice and reproductive justice; Christopher Coleman on disability rights; Lanitra Berger on social justice in our lives and work; and Jenee Osterheldt on Black joy as a beautiful form of resistance. A series of workshops will be led by staff members in the division of institutional equity and inclusion Justin Mendillo ’18, Rachel Stewart, and Maurice Tiner ’17. And Rodmon King, our incoming dean, will be featured in conversation with Prof. Ari Rotramel, whose fine work as interim dean will come to an end later this month.
A full schedule for Elevate is online, and registration for each virtual session is now open. We hope you will take advantage of this timely opportunity not only to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. King but also to elevate that legacy by becoming actively engaged as citizens working toward a more just society.
Interim Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion